asking for a promotion as part of taking on a massive amount of new work

A reader writes:

I work in marketing for a publisher. The whole department was reorganized a few months ago, and I was placed in charge of Type X books for my team. Our team has one other person who works on Type X books, but this person is leaving in a month, and we haven’t been approved to hire someone new.

Last week, my manager asked me if I would be able to take on all of the work of the person who is leaving, or just some of it (in which case the rest would be reassigned around the team). After spending a few days talking to the person who is leaving and researching their workload, I do think I can take this on; however, it would be essentially doubling my responsibilities. Given that, I would like to be promoted up to the next level, with a corresponding raise. My manager would like me to take it on as I am the most senior person available with the most experience on all of these subjects, but my title (which I’ve held for 2.5 years) and compensation don’t reflect that.

My manager has asked me to get back to him this week with my recommendation as to how the work should be distributed. I want to bring up the idea of a promotion/raise but I’m struggling with the best way to address it. Do you have any suggestions? I know claiming that I’ll be doing the work of two people won’t hold water, since obviously I’ll still be just one person, but my responsibilities will involve supervising the work of twice as many assistants and managing relationships with more than twice as many editors and authors. Promotions are hard to come by in my office, but I’ve had glowing reviews, both my manager and his manager frequently praise my work, and my manager’s manager has previously said he would like me to take on more responsibility as a path to advancing in my career here.

“I think I can make this work, but it’s definitely going to be a significant increase in what I’m responsible for. I’d like to propose doing it in the context of a change in my title. Would you be open to bumping me up to (new title), and bumping my salary up accordingly?”

To be clear, as I’ve said in the past, I don’t recommend asking for a raise just because you’re taking on more work. But you’re talking about a significant change to your workload and responsibility level, and it sounds like it will be a permanent one, not a temporary pinch-hitting kind of thing. You’re also in a position of strength — glowing reviews and regular praise — and the request is one that sounds like it would make sense within the structure of your office.

If your boss says they can’t do that, then you present the case for why this is significantly more work that warrants revisiting your title and pay, as well as why you’ll excel at it. If you still get a no, then you might ask if you can have a formal agreement to revisit the question in six months. And then at that point, you make a personal calculation about whether what you stand to gain — more responsibility on your resume, more exposure to higher-profile people, a stronger bargaining position in the future, or whatever it might be — is valuable enough to you to move forward anyway, or whether you want to quietly start exploring other options.

(In general, I tend to put pretty heavy weight on the “awesome experience that you can parlay into a better job in the future” part of the equation — if indeed that’s correct, as it would be in many fields — but you’ve got to look at the whole landscape and figure out what makes sense for you.)

{ 22 comments… read them below }

  1. GrumpyBoss*

    If your company isn’t approving a backfill, they may be quick to shoot down the idea of additional compensation too. I say this not to be negative, but to warn against taking a promotion with the promise of money to come later. This is a shady trick that I’ve seen way too many people get suckered by.

    1. Alien vs Predator*

      Yes, exactly. And it is great to get the extra experience, as AAM points out, but OP do not hesitate to “parlay” that experience at the earliest available opportunity. Promises and maybes don’t pay bills.

    2. Alliej0516*

      Actually, I don’t know that that is true. Approving an increase in salary would be a huge savings to the company as opposed to hiring someone new and having to provide full salary and benefits. That would likely delay the chance of backfill if the workload does become less manageable, but at present it would be more beneficial to them.

      1. Steve G*

        I agree with Alliejo, I got 2 non-review-time related raises at my current job amidst the hiring freezes in place at the time.

    3. Artemesia*

      When asking for a raise and promotion don’t just frame it as taking on more work, but reframe the job, suggesting ways it is more responsibility and plan to offload a few lesser responsibilities to make that possible. So you are suggesting a new higher level job taking on the higher level responsibilities of the role and offloading the lower. That way it is not just ‘I can do it for more money but won’t if I don’t get it.’

      Then if you do not succeed in a new title/pay but get the whole thing dumped on you make job searching a priority. Keep that quiet. Don’t threaten it. And when a great new job does come along, luxuriate in the joy of saying ‘you already turned that down’ when they ask ‘what can we do to keep you.’

      1. OP*

        Yes, that’s what I’d like to do – point out that it’s really a different role with more responsibility, thus justifying the title change, and not just more of the same tasks.

    4. OP*

      To my company’s credit I’ve never heard of a promotion without a commensurate raise – they’re usually just tightfisted with both – but I will look out for this just to be sure. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Mister Pickle*

    I don’t necessarily have any advice to offer, but I cannot resist commenting: if someone is leaving the company, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out a way to divert (say) 10% of the leaving party’s salary into a raise for the person who will be taking on their work. I am, of course, hopelessly naive and unrealistic.

    *sigh* This sounds like it could turn into a really tough spot if mgmt isn’t willing to play ball. The one thing I’m noticing is that once LW tells mgmt she can do the work, she’s committed to doing the work. Ie, there does not appear to be any graceful way to say “I can handle doubling my workload if I get a promotion and a raise. But without a promotion and a raise, I can’t handle it”. Which is sorta silly, because on the face of it, it makes perfect sense that a person would do more work if you pay them more. But for a person to refuse doing more work without a pay increase? They must be lazy!

    So: once LW says “I can do the work, but I need a promotion and a raise”, there are 3 basic ways it can go:
    1. Mgmt says “of course!”, gives LW a promotion and a raise, and they all live happily ever after.
    2. Mgmt says “I’m glad you can do the work! I’m sorry that we can’t give you a raise/promotion, though, it’s just a bad time” and LW tries to carry on like a trooper but eventually quits because, frankly, her mgmt sucks.
    3. Mgmt says “I’m glad you can do the work! I’m sorry that we can’t give you a raise/promotion”, and LW responds “well, if I can’t get a raise/promotion, then I’m not going to be able to do the work”, which is probably a “career-limiting move”.

    If it were me – all I can think is that I might try to do some intelligence-gathering about the likelihood of a promotion/raise before making any kind of committment to mgmt.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Great analysis, but I’d add that, especially as a young, entry-level employee, I’d suggest that #2 gives you more leverage and a better resume, leaving you in a better position to get that raise from somewhere else eventually if necessary, so the only real dead end choice is #3. And I’ve been there, done that, because sometimes companies that treat you that way aren’t the best place to try to move up anyway, and they very well may not give you a better or worse reference based on how hard you work or how good you are at your job.

  3. Julie*

    I ended up leaving my last job when this happened. You’re right in the sense that at the end of the day, you still are only doing the job of 1 person because you are 1 person. But you do have a right to point out that your time is being spent differently. Are you shifting from a job where you might be out at 5 daily to now being on-call for emergencies? Are you sacrificing tasks that made you happier in the workplace for a responsibility that will mean you have to answer to more people? Will your ability to feel like you can go home sick or take a vacation be affected?

    My last job meant that my boss texted me, he ran to lunch and asked me to do things over lunch so they’d be ready when he came back which meant I couldn’t go work out or eat lunch with friends, it meant I had to be available to write a press release when a trial ended (though I did get flex time), it meant that I did have to make use of flex time and lost a reliable schedule, it meant no one else in the office would do either of my jobs so I felt like I couldn’t leave or take vacation. Those were all worth a lot to me and a raise could help me come to terms with the sacrifices I had been making. That doesn’t even include the evenings I spent dually stressed out about a job that kept promising to promote me but never did.

    Make a list of what you expect might change and ask yourself how much your time is worth. There’s no reason to talk yourself out of a raise when you’re being asked to do more.

  4. sam*

    Good luck getting that promotion if you work at Harper. I took on a similar role change and HR refused to approve a promotion, even after six months in the role. Needless to say, I found a new job.

    1. Steve G*

      This is such a stupid trend, knocking down raises and promotions. One of the stupid paradoxes of the workplace. Somewhat to a company saying they want people who proactively foresee and try to prevent problems….then such a person starts the job, and they realize the company never actually does something until after the emergency happens. It’s like…do they want good employees or not!!

  5. Student*

    Have an alternative to outline ready. Either give me a raise and I’ll take it all on, or split it among A, B, C, and D and have them each drop/de-prioritize items X, Y to offset the increase in responsibilities.

  6. The IT Manager*

    What I wonder here is if the LW is getting more experience. I do twice as much X as before might not really stand out that much, but perhaps supervising twice as many people and managing twice as many relationships might stand out.

  7. Not So NewReader*

    I would use actual numbers instead of saying “twice as many”. If you had three people and now you have six people to supervisor that shows exactly what is going on. Business is all about numbers so don’t be afraid to weave numbers in as you speak. And remember, you are giving your boss the words he will use with his bosses to get your raise. So think about what will resonate with the decision makers.

    1. OP*

      Yes, I plan on talking about specific revenue numbers, products, etc. I didn’t want to get too specific here in case my coworkers read this blog! :)

  8. Mister Pickle*

    I ran this past my wife, who I thought had a couple of interesting observations:

    1. That LW’s manager is asking “can LW do it, or does the job need to be redistributed around the team” may be a sign that the manager is trying to fix things On The Cheap.

    2. How big / how old is the company that LW is working for? My wife works for a relatively small (~100 employees), relatively young (~20yo) company. Recently someone critical left, and the person who was tapped to take over their responsibilities was given a very fast promotion and raise. At the very large, very old company I work for, this kind of thing is unheard of.

  9. AnonyMouse*

    Personally, I’d make this as much about your strengths and performance as the additional work. If in the conversation, you could tactfully say something like “I’m happy you think I’m the right person to cover Marie’s work now that she’s moved on. Since this would involve doubling my number of clients from X to 2X and my number of direct reports from Y to 2Y, it’s an exciting increase in responsibility. In light of that, the consistently positive feedback I’ve had in X, Y and Z, and the desire you’ve expressed to see me advance here, I think it makes sense to talk about a change in my title and compensation. Is this something you’d be open to discussing?” This makes it less “well if you want me to do more you’ll have to pay more” and more “since you think I’m a strong employee, enough to take on all this other stuff, can we talk about the advancement you’ve already said you want to see?”

    1. John B Public*

      This is kind of what I was envisioning. It sounds like they’re offering you more responsibilities at first, but if you reframe it as you being offered a new position with some of the same responsibilities as your current position, that can help with how you want the conversation to go.
      “It sounds like you’re offering to put me in a position where I’d be managing X employees and Y outside relationships. In light of my outstanding evaluations and the change in position, what would you be offering the person who took this position?” You’re not saying yes, you’re not saying no. You’re not saying “I can do this” which too many people hear as “I unconditionally accept taking on extra work for no additional compensation!” which is a great way to become burnt out.

  10. Mister Pickle*

    One last comment from me: I hope that LW writes back and gives us an update on how this turns out. Especially if it’s a happy ending.

  11. OP*

    Thanks for answering my question, Alison! Your script is exactly what I was looking for but couldn’t figure out how to phrase. I do think the added experience and responsibility will be helpful in my future career regardless, but I like my current company so I’d prefer the bump up rather than using it to look elsewhere.

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